Singapore sex offenders face more severe punishment from March 1 under amended laws

SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/Asia News Network): The courts will be able to deal with molesters more severely from Tuesday (March 1), as increased penalties for sex crimes kick in.

The Criminal Law (Miscellaneous Amendments) Act 2021 was passed by Parliament on Sept 12 last year.

The amendments increase penalties for sexual offences, expand and clarify the scope of certain offences and defences, as well as modernise the language of the law.

The number of molest and voyeurism cases went up last year.

In the recent release of annual statistics, the police said there were 1,480 molestation cases in 2021, compared with 1,321 in 2020.

Voyeurism cases rose to 467 last year, from 394 in 2020.

A joint release by the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Law said several of the amendments will kick in from Tuesday.

These include an increase in the maximum jail time for molesters to three years from the current two.

The maximum penalty for other sexual offences will also be raised from Tuesday to be on a par with existing maximum sentences for offences involving minors.

Engaging in any sexual activity in the presence of a minor aged 14 to 16, or showing the person a sexual image, will carry a maximum jail term of two years, up from the current one.

If the minor is aged 16 to 18 and the offender is in an exploitative relationship, the maximum jail term will also be two years, up from the current one.

In 2017, a mixed martial arts instructor was jailed for four years for consensual sex with two underaged girls and showing an obscene clip to a six-year-old girl, among other offences.

His sentence was met with public outrage, with many saying it was too lenient.

Following this, Law Minister K. Shanmugam addressed Parliament and said penalties for sex crimes against minors would be reviewed.

Other sexual offences will also be expanded and made clearer from Tuesday.

It is an offence to get consent for sex by deceiving a victim about the use of any sex protection measure or about the carrying of a sexually transmitted disease (STD).

This will be expanded, so that tricking victims into consenting to being touched sexually by a third person will also count as an offence.

The offence will also be clarified to include tricking the victim about the risk of contracting an STD, such as when the offender lies to the victim that the STD is not transmissible through sex.

Definitions for terms relating to voyeurism, child abuse material and abuse material of minors will also be made clearer.

The offence of having sex with a corpse, which is currently worded to apply to "any man", will be made gender neutral and expanded to cover other forms of sexual acts with a corpse.

Several changes to non-sexual crimes will also kick in from Tuesday.

It is currently a crime to provide false information to a public servant to make the latter "improperly use, or not to use" lawful powers.

This will be expanded to include making the person use powers inefficiently or ineffectively, such as by giving false information about the identity of a suspect.

The maximum sentence of two years' jail and a fine remains the same.

The offence of obstructing a public servant will also be tweaked.

Currently, the maximum sentence is three months' jail and a $2,500 fine.

The maximum jail sentence will be raised to six months, and "obstruction" will also be clarified to mean not just physically obstructing a public servant, but also providing false information

As part of the amendments, the language of the Penal Code will be modernized.

Archaic terms such as "wantonly", "malignantly" and "maliciously" will be replaced with more easily understood words such as "rashly" and "intentionally".

Other amendments, such as expanding the jurisdiction of a Magistrate's Court and District Court relating to racially or religiously aggravated offences, will come into force at a later date together with amendments to the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act.